Self-described “militant feminist” and chief executive and founder of Goterra, Olympia Yarger, was shocked when her company received more than 200 applications for its head engineer role last week. Not because of the sheer number of applications, but because not a single one was from a woman.
Yarger – who was named Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year in the 2019 Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards – took to her social media channels for help. She told followers she “can’t manage this” and asked if any had a network of female engineers she could tap into to “diversify that applicant process, if only a little”.
Yet Yarger made it very clear that the position would be filled by the person with the right skills and personality, irrespective of their gender.
“It goes without saying that the best candidate will get the position, but I really want to make sure we’re reaching potential female applicants as well,” she said on LinkedIn.
But her clarification did not stop men suggesting that Yarger’s request represented a gender bias. “Is forced diversity even diversity? Or is that reverse bias?” one Twitter follower wrote. Another wrote: “Why don’t you just post ‘looking to hire a female head of engineering’”, and another: “Is it possible that man women would just rather be doing something else?”
Yarger told Women’s Agenda that while her message was mostly well received – and she has received 10 applications now from senior female engineers – some people have misinterpreted her post. She argues she is not “forcing diversity” within her company, she only wants the applicants for the role to better represent the number of senior women engineers in Australia. If just five per cent of the applications were female, that number, as low at it is, would better represent the proportion of women in the industry, she says.
“Not having one woman in 200 applications tells me that I’m not reaching enough networks…that the ad is not getting to these women. I am not saying I will hire a woman over a man.
“Also, I think women at that level in engineering are unicorns – so they’re notoriously hard to recruit.”
Yarger told Women’s Agenda that her company’s problem illustrates an industry-wide issue in STEM. Women’s Agenda recently reported that just 15 per cent of engineering students are women, and an even lower number currently work in their field.
“Undoubtedly we need to work both within the industry, and also with young girls… in education, to encourage more women into careers in STEM,” she said.